Pete Blackshaw

Healthcare Marketing: Is Social Media Really Social?

Social media is no substitute for real interaction and relationship.

So there are now almost 600 million people who have joined Facebook.  That’s just about everybody isn’t it?  It’s the way we connect, network, create and maintain relationships.  And brands are trying to get into the social media mix and create meaningful relationships with consumers.  Healthcare marketers are slowly entering the fray and experimenting with ways to interact with their constituencies and their community.  Everyone is telling us this is the way marketing is done these days.  I have drunk the Kool-Aid and have strongly suggested the same thing.  And I’m not backing down from that belief.

But sometimes in our rush to adopt and to gain a competitive advantage, our thinking becomes a little skewed.   Social media is an aid.  It’s a vehicle.  It’s a tool.  But it is not a real relationship. Especially when we are dealing with service brands.

Pete Blackshaw in an Ad Age article referred to social media as “a relationship vitamin and sweetener and not a destination.  It should deepen brands, not defuse or soften them”.  He goes on to argue “volume doesn’t always translate into intimacy, speed doesn’t guarantee meaningful connections, retweets don’t necessarily confer respect and friending doesn’t always signal friendliness”.

The point is, social media is no substitute for real, meaningful relationships.  The kind that happens between people, personally.  Sure, social media can affirm and support those real relationships but it cannot take the place of what happens human to human in real life and real connections.  Brands are defined and brands become social with human things like customer service, caring, helping, smiling, being there and maybe just a soft physical touch. These kinds of things can ultimately only be delivered in personal ways. Human ways.  And not from places on the internet.  Sure social sites can support and confirm such activity, but not take its place.

We can be “social” all day long on the internet but unless we are truly social as we interact personally, human-to-human, it’s not real or sustainable.  Listening, authenticity, transparency and responsiveness have to begin in person. Although we use these words often when discussing social media, we are fooling ourselves if we think these uniquely human things can really happen on social networking sites.  Brands are made (and broken) at points of real human contact and only sweetened by social media.

We talk a lot about relationship building and conversational marketing.  That’s well and good.  But they begin with real personal contact.  Blackshaw references the fact that we are so “social” these days we all walk with our heads down and eyes fixed on our smart phones as we try to create and maintain relationships.  Wouldn’t it be more social to lift our eyes and see people instead of screens?  To use a smile or a word to communicate?  A handshake or a touch to connect?

Let’s don’t get confused and think we can make a service brand real by capitalizing on every social media site available.  The effort instead should go into people caring for and about people.  Personally.


Healthcare Marketing: Are We Training Unhappy Customers/Patients to Whine on the Web?

Unhappy customers are often finding that using social media sites to complain gets faster and better results than ordinary customer service venues.

A disgruntled JetBlue customer was slapped with a $50 fee for checking a box containing a fold-up bicycle, clothes and some cheese. The box met the height and weight requirements for free baggage but JetBlue’s policy for checking a bicycle called for a $50 fee.  The angry customer called the airline’s customer service center but was repeatedly told the fee was company policy and there were no exceptions.  But then the customer went online to social media sites and complained. It was soon on Twitter and within three days JetBlue called the cyclist to tell him his $50 charged had been reversed.

In the past, a customer complaint was handled usually with a phone call or maybe by email and the matter in question was handled either satisfactorily or unsatisfactorily.  It was done quietly and just between the customer and the company.  But now, consumers have at their disposal, social media.  Now a dissatisfied customer can let the world know about his complaints.  And companies now monitor those online comments and in their desire to stop the flow of bad blood and demonstrate their responsiveness will quickly satisfy an angry customer.  Companies are much more likely to give a favorable response to a customer who has broadcast his complaint over the internet than one who follows the traditional lines of customer service.

Michael Bush addressed this issue in an article in Ad Age.  He cited the above incident as an example of how companies are training customers to take their complaints to the web.  He concludes that those who publicly flog a company on the internet by using social media get faster and better resolution to their issues.

He quotes Pete Blackshaw, EVP of Nielsen Online Digital Strategic Services. “The consumer sees two completely different faces, and ultimately that kills credibility, erodes equity and more.” As a defensive measure brands are much more likely to favorably satisfy a customer complaint that comes through the web than through traditional means and that is creating a huge credibility problem with the brand.

Perhaps companies are training consumers to whine about them on the web.  Why shouldn’t they?  They get a quick and favorable response.  But that is a dangerous precedent. Complaints that come through traditional customer service channels should receive the same treatment as those that appear in social media.  Otherwise we are inviting unhappy consumers to take their dissatisfaction to the web. It’s much better to address and resolve consumer (and patient!) issues in private through traditional customer service channels than to be unresponsive and read about it, on the internet.  Along with the rest of the world.


Healthcare Marketing: Social Media Requires Defensive Tactics

It’s not all about being aggressive in the use of social media.  In a consumer-driven marketplace, we must also defend our brand and our brand’s reputation.

From every corner, we hear that hospitals must get in the action, embrace social media and be active using all of the social networking tools.  It’s being drilled into our brains.  I don’t necessarily disagree.  I have advocated the use social media by hospitals and healthcare organizations.

But there is another side to the issue.  You might call it the ugly side.  In a consumer-driven environment, every brand is vulnerable.  Any brand can come under attack and sometimes half the world will know it before the brand manager does.

Pete Blackshaw wrote a very sobering and highly relevant article recently in Ad Age.  He offered “The Pocket Guide to Defensive Branding”. He suggests, “Sandbag before you sell. Protect before you promote.  Defend before you dance.  Self critique before you self-destruct”.

We have all witnessed social media road kill.  Brands that have come under attack by one or thousands who use social media to attack and proliferate the scorn.  Sometimes the criticism has been warranted, other times perhaps not.  Twitter and Facebook “like” pages becomes a complaint desk.  And with the internet, a brand can never rid the populated highway of the messiness.  It’s there to be googled forever. The issue is how do you protect your brand against such an onslaught.

Blackshaw offers several suggestions for building a defense against an uncontrollable offensive attack.  Here are a few of his suggestions:

  • Listen first, answer next, engage last. Monitor and listen.  Don’t always be the one talking.  Listen carefully.
  • Give your brand the “torture test” before your consumers do it for you. Know your vulnerabilities.  Think like your worst critic.
  • Master the “Six Drivers of Brand Credibility” – Trust, transparency, authenticity, listening, responsiveness and affirmation.
  • Know the  ‘talk-drivers”…the thing(s) most likely to ruffle the feathers of consumers.  In hospitals it’s usually employees.  That is your vulnerability. Know what motivates them.
  • Know all the facts.  Get them into the right hands.  Even before an attack occurs.
  • Put yourself on the front lines. Open up the feedback channels, promote them and pay attention to them
  • Unify and engage brand stakeholders before a crisis occurs. It requires honesty, openness, responsiveness and organizational agility

Social networking can help establish brand awareness and build strong brand equity.  It can also bite you and cause great harm to the brand.  It is indeed a two-edged sword and both sides of the blade are sharp.  In addition to exploring how we can use social networking to enhance our brand we must also be building a strong defense readying ourselves for a possible attack.  And usually it’s a strong defense that wins brand championships.


Hospital Marketing: Lessons Learned from Zappos

Hospital Sign buttonThe value of a company is not just in revenues and bottom line numbers, but in the status of the brand.

The online retail giant, Amazon, agreed to purchase Zappos for just under a billion dollars. Why would the giant pay so much for a shoe retailer? Pete Blackshaw, Executive VP of Neilson Online Digital Strategic Services, pointed out in an article in Advertising Age that the value of Zappos was driven by customer service and employee advocacy. Amazon, who knows quite a bit about customer service, was willing to pay quite a price for a company that excelled in the details of customer service and who empowered their employees to always put the customer first.

True, hospitals are not often positioning themselves to fetch a huge sales price in the open market. But the value of a hospital is determined by its brand equity. Everyday consumers are making a decision whether a hospital is worth his/her time and resources. And they are making that decision on what kind of service they receive. They are determining if your brand is worth it or not.           

Blackshaw says Zappos is obsessed over a different set of numbers. They are consumed with providing outstanding customer service. They seek feedback at every level. They want to know what the consumer experience is and fix anything that prevents the customer from having a perfect customer service experience.

How many hospitals are tenacious about customer service? How many hospitals explore, examine and experiment with the details of their interactions with the consumer? Too many hospitals, I’m afraid, really don’t want to know the truth in the details. Too many hospitals are satisfied to provide adequate, but not outstanding, service. Yes, it is painstaking – it’s hard work. But it certainly paid off handsomely for Zappos. And it will pay off for those hospitals that get dirty in the details and are committed to providing outstanding patient experiences.

“Zappos, Powered By Service.” What hospital could dare use a branding line like that?